Henrietta Clarke looks in detail at recent discussions on the EU–US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

During a recent visit to the USA, the new EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, met with her US counterpart to discuss a fresh start to the EU–US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations. They reviewed the state of play in all areas of the talks and agreed on a number of practical steps to prepare for the eighth round of talks scheduled for February 2015. The new Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, highlighted TTIP as 1 of his 10 priorities for the new Commission so the negotiations will continue to have strong political support.

Transparency and debate

Commissioner Malmström set out the recent measures adopted by the European Commission to increase transparency in the European negotiating process such as making public more EU negotiating texts that the Commission already shares with Member States and the European Parliament. The Commission considers it vital that the general public has accurate and full information of the EU’s intentions in the negotiations, to address its concerns and correct certain misconceptions.

In a speech to the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee, Commissioner Malmström said that a fresh start also means getting more involved in the debate. At the beginning of December she met representatives from business, consumer bodies, trade unions, environmental and other interest groups to ensure that EU trade negotiators take into account the widest possible range of views. During each negotiating round there are sessions in which negotiators and representatives of various interests can exchange views to ensure open two-way dialogue throughout the negotiating process.

An ambitious but realistic agreement

A fresh start also applies to the content of the agreement. The Commissioner considers an ambitious but realistic TTIP would include ambitious outcomes on market access for goods, services and public procurement, such as:

  • getting rid of the vast majority of duties at the moment that the agreement comes into force

  • allowing European and US companies to compete on equal terms for public contracts in a truly transatlantic market

  • working on new market access in services but being clear that service commitments will not cover public or audio-visual services.

A second pillar would remain regulation with a package that works for small and medium-sized businesses and strengthens not weakens levels of protection in Europe. This should develop the following.

  • Ways to encourage EU and US authorities to talk to each other as they set new rules that will have a transatlantic impact and ways to help them cooperate on developing international rules.

  • Agreements to reduce duplication of regulation for cars, pharmaceuticals, machinery, food and medical devices while keeping consumers protected. Taking cars as an example, the differences in car crash tests or the way seat covers are checked for flame resistance could be looked at.

  • Agreements to reduce the burden of procedures like conformity assessment, inspections and customs and reducing unnecessary red tape.

  • A one-stop-shop website with easy access to all rules and regulations that apply to particular products. These are essential for small businesses, which account for 30% of EU exports.

A third pillar would cover rules that will have a global impact. Particularly important would be rules on the following.

  • Energy and raw materials. This could give secure access to US energy resources and set rules for open global energy markets that respect the environment.

  • A pragmatic result on geographical indications for food and drinks such as Parma ham, Roquefort cheese or Swedish vodka. This would be a historic compromise as the EU and US have always had major differences on this.

  • Rules on labour rights and protecting the planet with a clear monitoring role for civil society.

  • A new EU approach to the challenging issue of investment in the spring of 2015.

The current state of play

The seventh round of talks ended in October with discussions now based on specific textual proposals. Much of the focus was on the regulatory pillar with discussions on regulatory coherence, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary issues as well as on specific sectors. The regulatory part of TTIP is considered to have the potential to deliver the most benefits but it is also the most challenging part of the negotiations because it is highly technical and requires the most innovative thinking. The aim is to avoid unnecessary duplication while fully respecting the mandates of the regulators. The work is very much guided by the regulators.

There are three key considerations for the negotiations on the regulatory pillar. First, a commitment that nothing will be done to lower or endanger the protection of the environment, health, safety or consumers, or any other public policy goals pursued by EU or US regulators. Second, enhanced regulatory cooperation is essential if the EU and US want to play a leading role in developing international regulations and standards based on the highest levels of protection. Third, that TTIP should deliver concrete results in terms of enhanced regulatory compatibility.

  • Cars. Discussion touched on four areas: equivalence of existing regulations, improved operation of the 1998 Agreement, ideas for harmonisation, and research agendas and possible areas of common interest for future co-operation.

  • Chemicals. The EU submitted two non-papers on chemicals, A draft outline for provisions on chemicals and How to put ideas for cooperation under TTIP into practice — a few examples, which set out ideas for how EU and US regulators could work together in future in such areas as testing, classifying and labelling chemical products. Co-operating in this way would help cut costs for EU exporters to the US, while fully respecting the EU’s strict health and safety and environmental standards.

    Two chemicals-related pilot projects are also being discussed covering prioritisation of chemicals for assessment as well as classification and labelling. These pilot projects would test whether the initial ideas for co-operation with the US would work in practice.

  • Pharmaceuticals. There were detailed discussions on the work of the task force assessing the equivalence of EU and US Good Manufacturing Practices.

  • Medical devices. There was an exchange of views on the participation by the EU as an observer in the Medical Devices Single Audit Pilot.

  • Cosmetics. The main EU objective remains the approximation of safety assessment methods and the streamlining of the authorisation procedure in the US for ingredients such as UV filters.

  • ICT. E-labelling, co-operation in market surveillance/enforcement and conformity assessment principles for encryption of commercial products were discussed.

  • Engineering. Discussions continued on possible areas for regulatory co-operation in the sector.

  • Pesticides. The main issues discussed were the joint review of active substances; collaboration on setting Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs); improving the co-ordination in the run up to the OECD Working Group on pesticides; transposition of CODEX MRLs and the EU proposals relating to trade facilitation and pre-export checks.

Discussions and exchanges on the rules pillar focused on energy and raw materials, customs and trade facilitation, intellectual property rights and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Services were also discussed. The EU and US both put their respective market access offers on the table before the summer this year. It is a highly complex and technical area and the negotiators devoted most of the week to explaining the details of those offers. The approach to services negotiations excludes any commitments on public services: governments remain free to decide at any time that certain services should be provided by the public sector.

Last reviewed 18 December 2014